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Glad to Get Into Jams : Drummer Earl Palmer, who boasts credentials in jazz and rock, is host at a weekly, by-invitation-only session.

July 16, 1993|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times.

Sitting straight-backed at his dark green set of Remo drums, Earl Palmer led his trio through a crisp-tempo version of "My Shining Hour."

The occasion was a recent Tuesday at Chadney's in Burbank, where Palmer is host at a weekly, by-invitation-only jam session for instrumentalists. The other two in the trio were the redoubtable pianist Gildo Mahones and the equally protean bassist Andy Simpkins.

"It's fun," Palmer said. "You get to play what you want to play, and I like being able to coordinate some decent combinations of musicians to play together."

That Tuesday, Palmer had a few guests. First, he asked Buddy Collette to the bandstand, introducing the esteemed veteran reed man as "one of my benefactors."

"I met Earl in the late '50s, when he had just come here from New Orleans," Collette explained in a separate conversation. "I loved the way he played and I used him for some things with my quintet. He's a helluva jazz player."

Collette, using his alto saxophone, was heard to advantage on a steaming version of Dizzy Gillespie's "Blue 'n' Boogie." Palmer, his sticks moving seemingly without effort, his eyes riveted on his cymbals, kept the rhythm at a boil.

Later that evening, trombonist Slyde Hyde sat in, as did guitarists Ron Anthony and Al Viola, pianist George Gaffney and drummers Roy McCurdy and Gregg Field, who is currently appearing with Frank Sinatra. "The tunes with George and Andy were smoking," Palmer said.

Simpkins, one of jazz's finest bassmen, offered an appreciation of Palmer's traditional, straight-ahead style: "He lays down a groove, giving you a great rhythmic cushion."

Playing jazz with such musicians as Simpkins, Collette and Mahones is hard to beat, Palmer said. "Jazz is totally improvisational. After you've played the melody, you're on your own. Even behind a soloist, you're still free to play what you want, what you think you should play."

Palmer, an Arleta resident, has been involved with jazz as long as he's played drums--since the late '40s. But for years, he was renowned for his work in rock 'n' roll. He appeared on scores of records, among them Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin' " and Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally"--both recorded in New Orleans--and Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High" and the Righteous Brothers' "You Lost That Lovin' Feelin', " both made in Los Angeles.

In 1976's "Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll," writer Langdon Winner appraised Palmer as a "master of bass-drum syncopation, and possibly the most inventive drummer that rock and roll has ever had."

Palmer is happy to have the accolades, but he's reserved when asked about his role in the founding days of rock. "I don't remember what they were playing before me, but in our sessions with Fats and the others, we injected a New Orleans flavor into the rhythm," he said.

While making rock history by day, Palmer would be playing jazz clubs by night. "I'd play with Sonny Stitt, Charlie Parker, Ray Brown, when they came to New Orleans," he said.

Despite being the hottest drummer there, Palmer spent a good portion of the period from 1948 to 1952 studying piano and percussion at the Gruenwald School of Music. That training paid big dividends when Palmer arrived in Los Angeles and was able to work steadily as a free-lance musician.

"Here, I realized my potential," he said. "I was able to walk into the studio and sit down in front of music I had never seen, and play it." Besides his rock work, he recorded with such luminaries as Sinatra and performed on film scores.

Palmer said his gift for drumming came from his first profession--he was a tap dancer beginning at age 4. "I used to dance on street corners for tips, then later worked in vaudeville, so I had the advantage of knowing music before I played it," he said. "Being a dancer gave me an understanding of rhythmic 'time,' and you can't teach that."

Where and When What: Earl Palmer's trio at Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank. Hours: 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Tuesdays. Price: No cover, no minimum. Call: (818) 843-5333.

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